I have come to really like lettuce. I find that it complements a range of dishes other than salad. It can be served with meat, fish, poultry, and pork. I usually buy the lettuce offered at the grocery store. But the garden habits of my friends gave me other ideas.
A couple of them have lettuce gardens in which they grow a variety of products for use in the kitchen. I took a kind of survey of the different types of lettuce they grow. The article that follows is a kind of summary of what I found.
What is Lettuce?
It is a vegetable. It is not the tastiest vegetable, but it always comes high on people’s favorite vegetable list. Lettuce is low in nutrients, and it has a very low calorie, carb, vitamin, and mineral count. However, it is refreshing when served with dressing in a traditional salad. It also makes a great replacement for bread in a meal. Lettuce is also great for those who follow low-carb and gluten-free diets. And I use it in abundance whenever I have vegans over for dinner.
Types of Lettuce that can be Grown in a Garden
1. Ithaca Iceberg Lettuce
This is the most well-known type of lettuce because it is the one found in most grocery stores. It has large overlapping leaves that fold in on each other so tightly that they must be peeled back one by one, which is why it is much easier to chop and shred them if you want to make a salad. The leaves are also rigid and crunchy.
Ithaca Iceberg lettuce is best grown in gardens where pests are an issue. That is because insects will have a hard time getting through the hard and dense leaves. If insects do attack your lettuce heads, all you need do is remove the outer damaged layers at harvest time. The lettuce has a high leaf count. You won’t miss the few that you have to discard.
2. Nevada Summer Crisp Lettuce
This one is a favorite with gardeners because it is resistant to heat and sun damage. This type of lettuce is characterized by its heavy heads. They contain thick, moderately loose leaves that have a mild flavor and a smooth and pleasant texture.
This type of lettuce is best grown in warmer climates. It also prefers well-drained soil and gardens with lower water levels.
3. Tom Thumb Butterhead Lettuce
Like the fictional character, this lettuce is compact and short in stature. It is best grown in small and confined spaces like a container or a window box garden. It has a low maturity rate of 55 days, and it is easy to grow both indoors and outdoors.
4. Parris Island Romaine Lettuce
This type of lettuce is distinguished by its tall stature and sturdy leaves. It also has long leaves, excellent flavor, and good texture. This type of lettuce has a low maturity rate of 50 days.
5. Coastline Summer Crisp Lettuce
It can be identified by its long and firm stem and light green frilled leaves. This lettuce is another favorite among gardeners because of its dependable yields. For the best harvest, you should mix a cup of compost into the soil before planting each head and water it lightly but frequently at the roots rather than over the leaves. The lettuce will wilt if it dries out, so you want to aim for about an inch of water a week. Too much water will rot the roots and lead to the growth of mold on the leaves.
6. Ice Green Loose-Leaf Lettuce
This is another lettuce type that produces bountiful harvests. The seeds germinate quickly and abundantly. You can have a whole crop of lettuce heads in very little time.
7. Flashy Butter Oak Lettuce
This type of lettuce gets its name from the shape of its leaves. The latter resemble slender, jagged oak tree leaves. They are also quite beautiful, which makes them a hit among gardeners.
Flashy Butter Oak lettuce is very tolerant of low temperatures. That makes it perfect for gardeners who live in cold climates. You can grow this type of lettuce well into autumn. It also does well in greenhouses and indoor containers.
8. New Red Fire Loose-Leaf Lettuce
This lettuce has curly burgundy leaves, which are red as autumn flames. It will certainly enhance the aesthetics of your dish. It also has a high fibre count, which will add extra punch to your salad and make you feel full and satiated after eating it.
This type of salad has a bitter taste, which contrasts with the sweetness associated with other members of the lettuce family.
9. Summer Bibb Butterhead Lettuce
This type of lettuce does best in soil that is kept moist and fertile. It is also quite demanding. Each plant requires at least 18 inches of growth space around it. This type of lettuce also prefers partial shade, and it is best to harvest it while immature.
10. Crispino Iceberg Lettuce
This type of lettuce has pale inner leaves that curl backwards slightly when mature. This is one of the best types of lettuce for wraps. Crispino is also one of the easier varieties of lettuce to harvest. They must be plucked every 2 weeks.
Crispino lettuce does well in a variety of growing conditions. It is as well-suited to window boxes as it is to raised beds and open fields.
11. Corn Salad Mache Lettuce
This lettuce grows in a unique way. Its leaves sprout up in a twisty, rose-like pattern. Although it is possible to harvest it leaf by leaf, you are better off doing so once the head has fully matured.
Corn Salad Mache lettuce is highly resistant to cold. If you live in a cooler climate, you can grow it well into the autumn. For the best results, you should water the plant regularly. It prefers moist and damp conditions.
12. Frisee Endive Lettuce
This lettuce type has curly and light leaves that are quite beautiful. It grows well in small high places, which makes it perfect for containers and hanging baskets. The leaves from this lettuce head can be used as a salad base. They can also be added to a smoothie to give it extra flavor. You can grow them as baby leaves, which must be harvested after 35 days. Or, you can let the lettuce mature and harvest the whole head after 65 days.
13. Celtuce Lettuce
This lettuce tastes a bit like traditional lettuce and a bit like celery—hence the name. It is known for having long, crunchy stems instead of leaves. Celtuce matures after 75 days, and the stems can reach up to 2 feet in height. The flavor is bitter, and goes best with soups and in stir-fry. I have tried it in the former, but not in the latter.
14. Lau’s Pointed Leaf Romaine Lettuce
This type of lettuce makes a wonderful addition to any garden. The leaves are light green, tall, and slender. Lau’s Pointed Leaf Romaine has its origins in Malaysia, which makes it well suited for hot climates. It has a 30-day maturity rate, and can be picked and eaten as individual leaves.
15. Tennis Ball Bibb Lettuce
This lettuce has a 55-day maturity cycle, and only grows to about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. This small stature makes it perfect for growing in indoor containers. Tennis Ball Bibb lettuce requires very little care, and they germinate well.
A Brief History of Lettuce
Lettuce has its origins in ancient Egypt. Wall murals of Min, the ancient Egyptian god of fertility, depict lettuce cultivation. These date back to around 2700 BCE. The ancient Greeks learned how to grow lettuce from the Egyptians. They used it medicinally as a sedative and served it as a salad at the beginning of meals to help with digestion.
The Greeks passed their knowledge of the vegetable to the Romans, who named the plant “lactuca”, meaning milk, because of its white sap. The Latin lactuca became lettuce in English.
As the Roman Empire expanded east, lettuce went with it, making it all the way to China. The empire’s expansion north brought it to Britain, where women were afraid of eating too much of it, in the mistaken belief that doing so could cause barrenness.
Lettuce cultivation was still limited to Europe, Asia, and Africa at the beginning of the 15th century. By the end of the latter century, it had spread to North and South America with the first European settlers. By the 1600s, European farmers were developing lettuce heads of many varieties. This trend only accelerated in the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson had 17 varieties of lettuce at Monticello. Brown Dutch lettuce from Holland was one of his favorites.
By the early 20th century, the means of storing and transporting lettuce had changed significantly. Refrigerated railroad cars had existed since the mid-19th century, but by the 1920s they had become sophisticated enough to ship lettuce across the country. Thus began the advent of iceberg lettuce. It became a big hit throughout the middle of the 20th century.
By the 70s, tastes had changed again. The emergence of the organic food movement put the spotlight on the nutrients offered by each type of food. Iceberg lettuce, though hardier and better suited for long-distance shipping and storage, is less nutritious than butter, romaine, and leaf lettuce.
In response to the natural food movement, restaurants began offering several types of lettuce and supermarkets began selling mixtures of lettuce types. Today, healthier and more interesting greens continue to replace iceberg lettuce. It is now more common to see mixed bags of lettuce on supermarket shelves.
It has also become popular for people to grow their own lettuce in the garden, and to combine different types of leaves to complement and enhance their meals. There is also an entire industry dedicated to creating different seed combinations for individual gardeners.